Charles Frazier had been teaching University-level literature part-time when he first became spellbound by the story of his great-great uncle W. P. Inman. Inman was a confederate soldier during the Civil War who took a harrowing foot-journey from the ravaged battle fields back to his home in the mountains of North Carolina. The specifics of Inman's history were sketchy, indeed, but Frazier's father spun his tale with such enticing drama that Frazier began filling in the gaps, himself. Bits of the life of Frazier's grandfather, who also fought in the Civil War, helped flesh out the journey of William Pinkney Inman. He also looked toward the legendary epic poem The Odyssey for inspiration. Slowly, a gripping tale of devotion, faith, redemption, and love coalesced in Frazier's mind. For six or seven years, he toiled away on the story that would ultimately become Cold Mountain, and with the novel's publication in 1997, the first-time author had a modern classic of American literature on his hands.
In Cold Mountain, Inman is a wounded confederate soldier who abandons the war to venture home to his beloved Ada. Along the way, he is confronted by various obstacles, but he journeys on valiantly, regardless. Frazier cleverly divides the narrative between Inman's trek and Ada's story as she struggles to make due in the wake of her father's death and the absence of her love.
When Frazier was only half finished with the book, he passed it along to friend and novelist Kaye Gibbons (Ellen Foster; A Virtuous Woman), who then got it into the hands of her agent. Much to his disbelief, Frazier's novel went on to become the smash sensation of the late-‘90s. Winning countless laudatory reviews from publications throughout the nation, Cold Mountain also became a must-read commercial smash. The novel ultimately won the coveted National Book Award for fiction and was adapted into an Oscar-winning motion picture starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and best supporting actress Renee Zellweger.
Now, nearly ten years after the publication of Cold Mountain, Frazier is finally back with Thirteen Moons. While Thirteen Moons returns to a 19th century setting, 12-year old Will is quite a different protagonist from Inman. With only a horse, a key, and a map, the boy is prodded into Indian country with the mission of running a trading post. In this dangerous environment, Will learns to empathize with the Cherokees, who open his mind to a much broader world than he had ever seen before. With the same lyrical fluidity and sense of wonder that brought Cold Mountain to life, Frazier fashions Thirteen Moons in similarly epic fashion. Once again, the critics are coming out to applaud Frazier's work, Kirkus reviews declaring Thirteen Moons "a great gift to all of us, from one of our very best writers."
Although Will is not directly based on a distant relative, as Inman had been, the story is equally close to the author's heart. "Growing up, I lived in a green valley surrounded by tall blue mountains," Frazier explains in an essay he wrote for Random House, Inc. "Not much more than a century earlier, the valley had been filled with Cherokee people, living on farms and in villages all up and down the river... In part, Thirteen Moons is my attempt to understand how I came to live where I did, not as history or myth, but as narrative."
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Frazier grew up not far from the mountain he immortalized in Cold Mountain in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina. Although the actual Cold Mountain exists, the town after which it is named in the novel is entirely fictional.
Reportedly, Frazier was offered a whopping $8 million advance for Thirteen Moons.
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Growing up, I lived in a green valley surrounded by tall blue mountains. Not much more than a century earlier, the valley had been filled with Cherokee people, living on farms and in villages all up and down the river. In most outward ways, they lived about like my mountaineer ancestors at the time. Little cabins, gardens, hogs and chickens, hunting and fishing.
In 1838, those Cherokee people were herded to stockades and marched off to the west on the Trail of Tears. Their land was auctioned off to the highest bidder, and that is the land on which I grew up. We played baseball in a field near where a stockade had stood. A few miles downstream from the hole where we swam was a place where the great red leech had previously troubled the river. On the highest mountain was a bald where a giant lizard once basked in the sun. Potsherds and bird points turned up every spring when gardens were plowed. I knew a place in the woods where a flat stone covered in strange scripture lay hidden under leaves. In a nearby town, I worked for archaeologists excavating a town house and turned up pieces of wall daub with handprints still visible in the dry clay. You couldn't live in the mountains and not be reminded constantly of the land's previous occupants.
But just one ridge away, a few Cherokee people still lived. Ten or fifteen miles, as the crow flies. They were the most traditional of all their people, east or west. Some of the older folks still spoke no English. It never occurred to me back then to ask how they came to persist there against overwhelming force. In part, Thirteen Moons is my attempt to understand how I came to live where I did, not as history or myth, but as narrative.
Essay courtesy of Random House, Inc.
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